Keeping up with Britain

Funny stuff happened at PM’s Conservative Party speech.

https://www.economist.com/news/britain/21730011-even-fiasco-it-was-clear-conservative-party-members-were-beginning-plan

First, Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester was interrupted by a prankster who was somehow allowed to hand her a P45, a form given to British workers when they get the sack.

…and much more, in the linked article.

Boris Johnson:

https://www.economist.com/news/britain/21730007-one-great-puzzles-politics-how-foreign-secretary-keeps-his-job-boris-johnson

Brit BernieBros?

https://www.economist.com/news/britain/21729766-whipping-conference-delegates-app-insurgent-outriders-are-increasingly

Morning Report: Strong jobs report 10/6/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2547.5 -2.5
Eurostoxx Index 390.1 -0.9
Oil (WTI) 49.7 -1.1
US dollar index 87.2 0.2
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.38%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 102.875
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.938
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.9

Stocks are lower after the jobs report. Bonds and MBS are down as well.

Jobs report data dump:

  • Nonfarm payrolls -33,000 (100k-150k expected)
  • Unemployment rate 4.2% (4.4% expected)
  • Labor force participation rate 63.1% (62.8% expected)
  • Average hourly earnings up .5% MOM / 2.9% YOY (expectation .3% / 2.6%)

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are responsible for the weak payroll number, which is the only depressed number in an otherwise strong report. Much of the drop in payrolls was due to a drop in restaurant / bar jobs. If a restaurant was closed due to power outages or evacuation the employees are generally not paid, and therefore won’t show up on the list of jobs.

The critical numbers from the jobs report (which is causing rates to rise) is due to higher-than-expected wage growth and the increase in the labor force participation rate. These point to a tightening in the labor market and an increased likelihood of a rate hike in December. The Fed Funds futures are now predicting a 92% chance of a December hike, up from 80% yesterday.

Take a look at the chart of average hourly earnings below. You can see the change in inflection (sharp slowdown in growth) starting in early 2009, however you can also see the change in inflection (that appears to be accelerating) that started in early 2015. We could finally be seeing some wage inflation at long last. Note that there is a possibility that the jump in wages could be driven by the drop in restaurant jobs, which are generally low-paying. That would bump up the average a tad.

hourly earnings2

The NAHB and NAR are parting ways on the issue of the mortgage interest deduction. The MID is slated to become less important as tax reform takes shape. The standard deduction will be doubled, but many popular deductions will go away. For most people, taking the increased standard deduction will make more sense than itemizing. The NAHB is willing to allow the mortgage interest deduction to go away, as long as the low-income housing tax credit remains. The LIHTC is the big driver that makes building affordable housing make sense. NAR, on the other hand is suggesting that losing the MID would cause a 10% drop in house prices. Since Democrats will be uniformly opposed to any changes to the tax code, it will only take a few Republicans in blue states to put the kibosh on this. The MID has survived many attempts to kill it, and it is simply so popular that it may live to fight another day. Note that there are two things to make the MID less and less important: First, with interest rates so low, the actual interest paid is much less than it was, say, 30 years ago. Second, the MID cap is not indexed to inflation, so as house prices rise, the cap will kick in at progressively lower relative levels.

The Fed weighed in on tax reform, saying that it could cause a short term bump in the economy, but will raise the deficit and inflation.  Of course how much it increases the deficit will depend on the economic forecast used. Republicans want to argue that cutting taxes will increase growth, which will increase the taxes received by Treasury (called dynamic scoring). Democrats want to exclude that growth, arguing that it is invariably too rosy. All sorts of think tanks will weigh in on it and you will have to know their political predilections before reading their take. Many think tanks sell themselves as “non-partisan” when they really are not.

Morning Report: Handicapping the next Fed Chair 10/5/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2538.5 2.3
Eurostoxx Index 390.1 -0.3
Oil (WTI) 50.1 0.1
US dollar index 86.7 0.0
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.32%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.05
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.98
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.88

Stocks are higher this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

I was at the IMN conference earlier this week, which was very informative. Haven’t heard this much about convexity in a long, long time.

We have a lot of Fed-speak today, with 4 speakers. Powell, Williams, and Harker speak this morning and Esther George speaks after the close. Bonds should be quiet as we await the jobs report tomorrow.

Announced job cuts continue to be low, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. Job cuts fell 4.4% in September to 32,346. This number is down 26% from last year. The most movement (in terms of cuts and hiring) remains the retail sector. For the quarter, companies announced job cuts of just over 94,000. Sub-100k quarters are rare: the last one was Q4 last year and then you would have to go back to 2000 to find another. Remember, this stat includes announced job cuts (it counts all the press releases companies do) so these job cuts won’t necessarily materialize.

While online shopping has led to job cuts in bricks-and-mortar stores, those losses are being offset by new jobs in e-commerce. Of course the jobs are very different and require different skill sets, but it kind of looks like a wash

Initial Jobless Claims fell to 260k last week as hurricane-related effects continue to mess with the numbers. Note the ADP Survey (which foreshadows the BLS numbers tomorrow) was weak at 135,000 however hurricane-related effects are probably included in that number as well.

Janet Yellen’s term expires early next year. Here are the most likely candidates to run the Fed going forward. Trump could re-nominate Janet Yellen, however she is a liberal and supports stronger banking regulation. Gary Cohn is another possibility, as Trump prefers business people over academics. Jerome Powell is another possibility, and he would be somewhat more hawkish than Yellen. He is supposedly the choice of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Kevin Warsh is more hawksh than either Yellen or Powell and supports financial deregulation. Warsh would probably get some opposition from the left. Finally, John Taylor would be the most hawkish. While politicians might rail against too easy money out of the Fed while on the campaign trail, most prefer dovish types once they are in office. Nobody wants a Fed-induced recession on their watch. The last one we had was 81-82, when Paul Volcker tightened to break the back of 1970s inflation. President Ronald Reagan supported his move, which caused the worst recession (at the time) since the Great Depression.

Online betting site Predict It shows the market’s assessment. Kevin Warsh is in the lead at a 40% chance, while Jerome Powell is at 31% and Yellen is at 10%. Gary Cohn is at 9%.

Philly Fed President Patrick Harker says that the US economy will continue to grow at a subdued 2% rate until we get some sort of pro-growth tax reform out of Washington. He still supports hiking rates in December. The Fed Funds futures have more or less doubled their probability of a rate hike over the past month from around 40% to over 80%.

Donald Trump roiled distressed hedge funds yesterday when he suggested that Puerto Rico might need some debt relief to recover. The Commonwealth’s general obligation bonds fell into the low 30s. At least Trump was nice enough to wait until everyone marked their books for Q3.

The Anti-Inversion Rule is Invalidated

Remember that one of the BHO Admin’s “70 day temporary regulations” was the “Anti-Inversion Rule?”

It was designed to keep American entities from merging with foreign companies to avoid American taxation, and from manipulating fungible items so that the American portion of the merged entity would show minimized income, or even losses.

As a temporary rule it stymied one drug company’s merger. The Admin believed that while it engaged in full APA review it could indefinitely extend its temporary regs pending same.

My friend of 50 years, Lee Yeakel, just said “No”. As the USDCt for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, he ruled that the Anti-Inversion Rule was invalid because the APA had not been followed.

This business of avoiding the lengthy procedures required to vet a far reaching regulation got out of hand with BHO – remember the immigration regulations that the USDCt for the Southern District of Texas invalidated? As with that decision, In this case, the Judge agreed that the proposed rule was not inherently arbitrary or capricious, but that it just could not be a valid exercise by the Executive branch without the benefit of publication in the Federal Register, comment, and plenty of the back and forth that the APA requires.

Remember that Congress also gets the benefit of notice and prep time when the APA is followed, and can stop a proposed reg cold if it determines the proposal violates rather than applies the statute. Perhaps as important, the public, the interest groups, and those whom the reg is going to affect get their lawyers in gear.

The DJT Admin is also abusing the temporary reg loophole to try to avoid the cumbersome APA, as with its own “temporary” immigration regs.

But the cumbersome APA is in fact the legal mechanism that we have in place to tame executive bureaucratic overreach.

Here is an article on the Austin case:

https://www.davispolk.com/files/2017-10-02_court_invalidates_anti-inversion_regulation.pdf

Morning Report: Incomes rise but wages flat 9/29/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2506.8 -1.0
Eurostoxx Index 386.5 0.1
Oil (WTI) 51.6 0.1
US dollar index 86.3 0.0
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.31%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.05
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.98
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.88

 

Stocks are flattish on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat as well.
Personal Incomes rose 0.2%, right in line with estimates. The prior month was revised downward to 0.2%. The increase in personal incomes largely came from increased rental income, transfer payments, and interest income, not wages and salaries. Consumer spending rose 0.1%, while all of the inflation numbers came in a touch light. Weak auto sales drove the low consumer spending number. The personal savings rate was 3.6%. It probably won’t affect any of the Fed’s thinking with respect to a December hike, however the declining annual PCE inflation will concern some of the doves at the FOMC, as will the lack of wage growth. Note that these numbers will have some effects of the TX and FL hurricanes, and BEA is unable to separate them out.
The Chicago Purchasing Manager Index bounced back in September, hitting 65.2, way above expectations. While several regions have been reporting strength, Chicago has been an outlier.
Consumer sentiment slipped slightly in September, showing only a modest impact of the hurricanes, according to the University of Michigan survey.
Donald Trump reportedly met with Kevin Warsh to discuss the Federal Reserve Chairman position. The choice will probably end up either Warsh or Yellen.
Tax reform could be a big boost for the financial sector, especially banks. Since banks generally have fewer deductions than other businesses, a drop in the tax rate disproportionately benefits them. Note that lowering rates will create issues with pass-through small businesses, and could be subject to abuse. Note that the Admin is already softening its stance on state and local tax deductions, which has always been a tough one politically. Given the probability that no Democrats will support tax reform (at least at the individual level), a few blue state Republicans could sink it.
Most renters would like to own a home someday, however the up-front costs are the biggest obstacle. Renters need to be educated more on FHA loans, which are designed specifically to get the first time homebuyer into a home with a minimum down payment.
An improving economy means less payday loans. I wonder how much of this has been due to the CFPB too.

Morning Report: More on tax reform 9/28/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2499.5 -5.0
Eurostoxx Index 385.4 -0.3
Oil (WTI) 52.4 0.3
US dollar index 86.4 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.33%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.05
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.98
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.88

Stocks are higher this morning after a strong GDP number. Bonds and MBS are down.

Second quarter GDP was revised upward to 3.1%, while the PCE price index was steady at 1%. Consumption was unchanged at 3.3% while after-tax incomes rose 3.3%.  This is a Goldilocks type report for the economy, with strong growth and muted inflation. Residential Construction was a weak spot, falling 7.3%, the biggest drop since 2010.

In other economic data, Initial Jobless Claims came in at 272k, a touch lower than expectations. Claims in Texas are getting back to normal, while claims in Florida are still elevated. Retail inventories rose 0.7% while wholesale inventories rose 1%. Corporate profits rose 7.4%.

Tax reform could cause a quick jump in jobs, assuming it plays out the way its drafters hope. One provision that is getting attention is the accelerated depreciation idea. Accelerated depreciation will let companies expense new capital investment in the year it is made instead of having to depreciate it over a longer time period. The net effect is to make reported profit (and therefore the tax liability) lower than it would otherwise be, and that actually adds to the cash flow of the company. The big question is whether it will encourage job growth, and that is a question that divides economists almost 50/50 and largely falls along ideological lines. Liberal economists believe that this will only reward investors, while more right-leaning economists believe that the tax effect makes some marginal projects begin to make sense economically. If you are a leftie, you think the tax savings will get plowed back into dividends and buybacks. If you are a rightie, you think the tax savings will encourage investment in the business and hiring.

Note that one provision of tax reform includes a repatriation tax credit, which could cause bond yields to rise if companies sell Treasuries en masse to bring cash back to the US. The amount of money isn’t trivial: Microsoft alone holds $133 billion in cash overseas, largely sitting in Treasuries.

Tax reform at the individual level is still sketchy, and it looks like there will be winners and losers. The winners will be people in low-tax states as well as the super-rich. The losers will be upper middle class taxpayers in high tax states like NY and CT. Historically, the upper middle class taxpayer has been the “third rail” of tax reform and it is likely that hitting them will doom tax reform at the individual level. There is probably more support for corporate tax reform given that we have the highest statutory corporate tax rates in the world, and US corporations that don’t have overseas exposure (generally the smaller ones) are disadvantaged relative to the bigger guys.

Equifax’s CEO resigned over the hacking episode and the new CEO has unveiled free credit locking for life. To prevent identity theft, locking means that a new creditor cannot access your credit file unless you specifically request it, for example if you are getting a new car or opening a new credit card. This presumably prevents someone from opening a credit line in your name. So far, we have not heard about issues with mortgage loans and the inability to access credit reports from borrowers who have locked their accounts, but the hack is still relatively recent.

Housing credit risk increased in the second quarter, according to CoreLogic. Credit risk is still within the benchmark range of 2001-2003, before the housing bubble began to inflate in earnest. It seems that there have been two opposing phenomenons going on – first an increase in investor and condo loans has increased credit risk, while better DTIs and FICO scores have lowered it. The average credit score for new mortgages is 745, which is up 9 points YOY. DTI ratios were flat at 36%, while LTV ratios fell from 87.5 to 85.5. The increase in FHA loans over time has increased the number of 95+ LTVs by over 50% since 2001.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said he will not stand for re-election. Corker is a big name on the Banking Committee and is instrumental in GSE reform. This will accelerate the push for GSE reform in his last 15 months in office. GSE reform is difficult and cleaves strongly down ideological lines. Bob Corker and Senator Mark Warner came up with a bill that made it out of committee, however the left opposed it. The right wants to limit exposure to the taxpayer and introduce more competition. The left wants to ensure that low-income and targeted lending are not compromised. In the current state, Fannie and Fred remain under conservatorship, with all profits going to Treasury.

Thinking outside the box in Albuquerque:

tacos

Morning Report: Tax reform to be unveiled today 9/27/17

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2500.8 5.3
Eurostoxx Index 385.4 1.4
Oil (WTI) 51.9 0.0
US dollar index 86.5 0.4
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.29%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.24
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 104.21
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 3.87

Stocks are up this morning as Washington pivots to tax reform. Bonds and MBS are down.

Janet Yellen spoke yesterday and said that it would be “imprudent” to wait until inflation hits 2% to start hiking rates. Those comments were taken as support for a December hike and the Fed Funds futures took up the odds of a rate hike in December to 81%.

Bonds were also under pressure due to the possibility of some sort of tax deal. Here is a preview of the tax plan. Trump plans on releasing the details today. Apparently the big pieces involve cutting the corporate tax rate falls to 20%, while the top individual income tax bracket falls to 35%. There is an option for Congress to institute a higher bracket. Deductions will be limited while the standard deduction increases. The most contentious deduction will be the state and local tax deduction, which will hit taxpayers in high tax states like NY and CT the most. CT is already reeling from an exodus of high income earners and businesses, and this will only exacerbate that. This won’t be good for real estate prices there. While this is largely going to hit blue states, there are enough Republican House members in blue states to deep-six it unless Trump can get some Democrats on board. No word on eliminating or lowering the cap on the mortgage interest deduction.

Pending Home Sales fell by 2.6% in August, according to NAR.

Mortgage applications fell half a percent last week as purchases rose 3% and refis fell 4%. The hurricanes did depress activity in Florida and Texas, however increasing rates and a lack of home inventory were the biggest drivers.

Durable goods orders rose 1.7% in August, which beat consensus estimates. Ex-aircraft, they were up 0.2%. Capital Goods orders rose 0.9%, which is an indication that business expects to see further activity and is increasing their capacity. The bump in capital goods orders is being driven by the rebound in oil prices and drilling activity in the energy sector. Capacity Utilization rates are still low compared to historical standards.

The bond market has been in a tight range for this entire year. In fact, the 62 basis point range has been the tightest in over 50 years. Historically, that range has been closer to 175 basis points. The article is somewhat misleading, as the range is going to fall naturally when rates fall from 10% to 2%. Using volatility measured in sigma is better. That said, it isn’t just the US bond market: volatility in general is down. The VIX (the volatility measure for the stock market) has been in the single digits. Historically that has been a warning sign (When VIX is high, time to buy. When VIX is low, time to go).

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